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Celebrating and Capturing Memories in England with Valerie Kelley


They say “you can’t go home again,” but I actually did and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

It all started when my husband and I went about deciding what to do for our 40th wedding anniversary. Our anniversary was Sept. 7th, so we decided to make a trip back to England where I had been born 60 years earlier to commemorate both our anniversary and my 60th birthday. I had not been back to England since we left in 1950 – a period of 52 years.

We made our reservations for Sept. 17, 1991.

Valerie Kelley thought about her roots and hoped that the trip to England might help her extend her family lines. She had done a little genealogy, but was unable to trace her maternal grandparents. Luckily, someone was about to come into her life who would be a great help.

In our church, we are assigned “visiting teaching” partners. This is someone who accompanies you to visit selected other members of the church on a monthly basis. I was assigned to Holly Hansen. Holly turned out to be a veritable walking encyclopedia of genealogy. She is a professional genealogist and has written several books on the subject, plus she gave seminars in our area.

We talked about my search problems and she gave me advice on military records, census records, etc.

I took one of her classes during this time and met a lady in one class who had family in the very town we were going to visit in England. She asked me if I would do a little research for her there.

I searched what military records I could, but couldn’t find any info on my grandfather. With Holly’s help, I contacted a professional genealogist in England who specialized in military records. I sent my info to him and he visited the military records center at Kew. Unfortunately, my grandfather’s World War I records had been burned up in the bombing during World War II. The only records surviving were his medical records – not much help, but interesting.

I was able to write to England and make arrangements to visit with the remaining members of my family. I had an aunt in England who was 92 years old. She was the only remaining member of my father’s immediate family still alive.

Needless to say, when Sept. 11 rolled around, Valerie and her husband had quite a shock. While watching TV, they suddenly realized they were headed for England in only six days and wondered if they would even be able to make the trip.

Our daughter was totally against the whole trip. She said she would worry the whole time we were away, if we could actually still go. We checked with the airlines and were told that the planes would probably be back on schedule by our departure date, so we bravely carried on.

The flight to London was uneventful, starting off an unforgettable journey to Valerie’s homeland. Armed with her new-found knowledge of genealogy research, Valerie was prepared to gain valuable information from her family in England.

After spending two days in London, the travelers set off for Wirral to meet Valerie’s cousin, Rodney, along with his wife, Joan, and daughter, Karen.

While we visited and talked, Karen brought out a couple of boxes of old pictures and we went through them – pictures of my dad and me and the rest of the Greenfield clan – pictures beyond belief. We chose some of the pictures that Rodney couldn’t identify and had Karen’s husband make copies on the computer so that we could take them to my 92 year old aunt and get her to identify them for us.

I thanked Rodney and Joan for coming and told everyone they had given me my family back after all these years. I cried!

While studying family history with Holly, Valerie had learned the importance of capturing family stories. These are the very things that endear our ancestors to us. Her own story is sprinkled with interesting details.

The next day … we went to Llandudno in Wales. This was the place of the last vacation my mother and father and I had taken before leaving for America. While we had been at Llandudno, I lost a tooth. I was upset that the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t be able to find me away at the seaside and not at my usual home. My father took me down to the landing on the staircase in the hotel and pulled the carpet back a little and said, “There, put your tooth here and the Tooth Fairy will surely find it.” You know, she did!

Valerie and her husband were able to locate graves, meet other relatives, and record memories, all the while using tools like Celebrating and Capturing the Memories interview books. Before visiting Aunt Jessie, they visited Jean Heathcliffe, a childhood friend of Valerie’s sister.

This proved to be one of the most delightful days we have ever spent anywhere. She was a treasure trove of information. We asked if we could use a tape recorder and she said she didn’t mind.

Jean’s father, Mr. Shaw, owned a public house – “The ‘Q’ Inn.” That was the shortest named pub in England. The longest named pub was also in Staleybridge. The “Q” was a free house – not tied in to any brewery.

Jean’s house on Ridgehill Lane was built in 1937 by the owner of a rope manufacturing plant. There is a depression all along the back yards of her area, where the rope was stretched and coiled. They have even named the area “Rope Street.”

Two doors from Jean’s house is the home of Frank Jackson, 117 Ridgehill Lane. This is a home where my father took care of the garden for many years. I can remember walking with my father from our house to this home to play in the yard while he did the gardening. The current owners were very gracious and allowed us to film the garden where I’m sure my father planted some of the trees.

Valerie and her husband traveled to Stafford to her Aunt Jessie’s home. They found her well and again asked to use a recorder while they talked.

Jessie lived with us for a while during her teenage years. She was a delight to talk to and gave us all this info generously. We got out the copies of pictures we had made and she knew who all the people were. We spent a lovely, joyous afternoon with her and took her out to lunch. We never left the recorder off so that we would have lots of information to bring back with us.

During the time we were in England, we saw many great sights and visited many great places. But if it weren’t for the training we received in genealogy before we left, we could have come home with little to show for our effort.

We had learned to make contact before going in order to save time at our destination. We had learned what records we could easily get and what to leave to others who lived in the area. We learned to record those who had knowledge of a subject so that we could bring the tapes home and transcribe them at our leisure. We had with us books from our genealogy classes with special questions to ask of people who knew my ancestors, in order to get the right answers.

Lucky for us, we had met and used the genealogy helps that Holly Hansen provides. Her help allowed us to go back in time, love every minute of it, record it, and bring it home to share with our children.

I did indeed go home again. I hope to do it again in a few years, but I will remember this trip all my life as a chance to relive my childhood with those who meant so much to me back then.

Written by Valerie Kelley with remarks by Jennifer Hunt Johnson, Editor for Family History Expos